Friday, December 31, 2010

Homophobia And The Black Press

Homophobia is alive and well in the black community, particularly among some members of the black press. Within the last two months [of 1992] the Amsterdam News has published two articles whose authors are virulently anti-gay. Why the Amsterdam News, which has a number of gay and lesbian writers contributing to it, allows homophobia like Sylvester Leaks and Yusuf Salaam to vent their hatred of gays without editorial response is a real mystery.

In Leaks's front page story [August 1, 1992] about Mike Tyson's prison life, he enumerates the "horrors" that Tyson has either "observed or was told about" such as drugs, brutal fights among inmates, and homosexuality.

Instead of including the act of gang rape, which Tyson, convicted of rape, ironically fears, as one of the horrors of prison, leaks preferred to throw in the old bugaboo homosexuality which he characterized as "licentious and criminal."

The other Am/News writer Yusuf Salaam, in an article condemning the commercialization of Malcolm X's name and likeness [Sept. 26], ends the piece by saying that Denzel Washington after playing Malcolm X in the upcoming Spike Lee movie will next star as a homosexual, "one of the weakest levels of human existence." It's as though Washington, who after all is an actor, will sully Malcolm's image by accepting such a role. What does one role have to do with another? Doesn't Salaam know that actors frequently play a variety of roles? For the record, I read that Washington's next role is that of a homophobic lawyer [Philadelphia, directed by Jonathan Demme]. I'm sure Salaam will find that a more appropriate follow-up.

Negativity toward gays and lesbians is not limited to the black press. It's present among those active in the fight against AIDS in the black community. For example, during the recent United Against AIDS march in Manhattan, Ray Williams, a black gay activist, felt a tinge of homophobia among those in the Harlem contingent. "The black community is still suffering from the good AIDS, bad AIDS syndrome," says Williams, who has many friends with full-blown AIDS. "The bad AIDS are the gays and the good AIDS are all the others. They're willing to build a coalition with us until the epidemic is over. Then it'll be business as usual." Williams detected a reluctance on the part of the straight s to chant "Fight AIDS, not gays," a chant he created on the spot. "I didn't feel a sense of being welcome. The attitude I got was 'We'll tolerate you because we need you now.'"

Joe Pressley, a former Gay Men of African Descent executive director, sensed the homophobia from the black straights, too. "It's a struggle to be taken seriously by straights who have such stereotypical views of gay men, but we have to educate our communities. Part of fighting AIDS is fighting homophobia."

James Baldwin, in an interview with Village Voice writer and editor Richard Goldstein, observed that "Men have been sleeping with men for thousands of years....It's only this infantile culture which has made such a big deal of it."

Note: The above article was previously published in the October 25, 1992 issue of QW magazine.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

What Is Pure Cinema?

"Pure cinema for [Alfred] Hitchcock meant communicating through pictures. Give the audience something that only the movies can give you. You can get words from radio and books. You can get music from records and CDs and orchestras. You can get all those things somewhere else. But only the movies can give you moving pictures."--David Sterritt, film critic, from "Pure Cinema: Through the Eyes of the Master," a bonus feature on Rear Window (1954) DVD.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wynton Marsalis, Trumpet Virtuoso and Music Educator

Wynton Marsalis is a young man on the move, wearing several career hats--trumpet virtuoso, composer, band leader, author, recording artist (in the jazz and classical fields), and Jazz at Lincoln Center artistic director. Add to that collection of "hats" one labeled multi-media educator and you'll have before you a music appreciation series (originally broadcast on public television) called Marsalis On Music, which also features the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the conductor Seiji Ozawa.

The four-part series explores rhythm, form, the jazz band, and practice. The program uses innovative graphics and sound technology as well as imaginative and entertaining approaches. For example, in the first program, "Why Toes Tap," Marsalis explains the different ways composers use rhythm by presenting two versions of "The Nutcracker" --Tchaikovsky's and Duke Ellington's. "No motion, no rhythm," points out Marsalis. "No rhythm, no music."

Marsalis On Music, available as a book/audio CD package and as a home video set, was shot before a live audience of children during the production team's week-long stay in the summer of 1994 at the Tanglewood Music Center in Massachusetts. The intention, says the multiple Grammy winner, was "to painlessly beckon our children into the magical world of music." Another goal, he adds, was "to emphasize the importance of listening to many different kinds of music, noticing how they are related, though on the surface they may seem to be different."

The concept for the groundbreaking program, recalls Peter Gelb, the series's co-executive producer, grew "out of a series of conversations Wynton and I had shortly after we produced the Carnegie Hall Christmas Concert. The idea was to make the programs as appealing as possible capitalizing on Wynton's charm and utilizing animation and other visual aids that we thought would appeal to young people."

Marsalis's reputation , says Pat Jaffe, the other co-executive producer, as "a serious musician dedicated to his art" but who "also has a terrific sense of fun" are "highly visible" in the programs.
Those qualities make him a good candidate to follow in the footsteps of the late composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein, who hosted many Young People's Concerts on TV.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Blog's 2nd Anniversary

Tomorrow, December 18, marks the second anniversary of this blog.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Street Vendors on 125th Street

I wrote and sent the following unpublished letter-to-the-editor to the New York Amsterdam News. It was written on July 31, 1992.

Dear Editor: Although Karen Carillo's article (July 25) regards the street vendors on 125th Street favorably, seeing them as entrepreneurs following a time-honored tradition in Harlem, she overlooks the fact that the proliferation of these vendors has gotten completely out of hand. For shoppers and other pedestrians walking down 125th Street is equivalent to an obstacle course. instead of a pleasant urban mall-like environment, pictured in the artist's conception during the redesigning of the area, we now have a zoo. Nowhere else in Manhattan do you see this type of situation.

It seems as though the black press, the community, and civic leaders are afraid to say anything critical for fear of being labeled politically incorrect.

People need to earn a living and should be encouraged in their entrepreneurship, but the situation that exists now is intolerable. I'm certain that the merchants, who pay rent and taxes, would be the first to welcome an alternative to what is happening in front of their stores.

Perhaps the best solution to the problem is for the community and civic leaders to provide more indoor sites like mart 125* for the vendors rather than having them sell their wares on the street which creates a health and safety hazard for the public.

*Update: Mart 125, across the street from the Apollo Theatre, has been vacant for several years. Eighteen years after I wrote the above letter, street vendors line both sides of 125th Street (in some places) from St. Nicholas Avenue as far east as Lexington Avenue in all kinds of weather.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A News Commentator's Homophobia

I wrote and sent the following unpublished letter-to-the-editor to the New York Amsterdam News. It was written on July 31, 1992.

Dear Editor: Sylvester Leaks's front-page story (Aug. 1) about Mike Tyson's prison life enumerates the "horrors" that Tyson has either "observed or was told about." Instead of including the act of gang rape, which Tyson fears, as one of those prison horrors, Leaks would rather throw in the old bugaboo homosexuality, which he considers "licentious and criminal."

Leaks's attitude is what feeds the homophobia that is rampant in the black community and gives gaybashers the green light to go out and victimize gays and lesbians.

Black gays and lesbians, many of whom are among our best and brightest, end up withdrawing or withholding the skills, knowledge, and financial support that the black community needs because of the hostility from people like Leaks.

At a time when the black community is in dire straits on all levels, it makes no sense to ostracize and vilify a significant, albeit not very vocal, segment of the community whose sexuality has never been a matter of choice.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Discrimination At The Union Club, 1983

Black and White Men Together/New York [later renamed Men of All Colors Together], an interracial gay anti-racism group, after nearly three months, has emerged victorious in the fight against the Union Club's discriminatory admission policy. After initially denying such a policy, the East Village gay bar and disco has agreed to meet all four of BWMT's demands. The demands are an apology to all those it has discriminated against including four black young men from BWMT (Charles Brack, Lawrence Dubose, Alfredo Perez, and Donald Reid) who were sent, along with four white members, to "test" the club's admission policy on August 12, 1983; the elimination of its discriminatory admission policy; compensation of the victims by making a substantial financial contribution to BWMT's Discrimination Documentation Project; and the hiring of Third World people as bartenders, waiters, bouncers, etc.

In BWMT's newsletter for November, it was announced that the Union Club has agreed to make a $2,000 contribution to compensate the victims. The club's manager, John Addison, previously stated that the club could not afford to make a financial contribution but BWMT refused to take the statement seriously. It is their belief that one way to put an end to discriminatory admission policies is to make the practice of it very costly to bar and disco owners. They see their victory at the Union Club as a way "to show the community as well as other bar owners that a multi-racial, non-discriminatory bar can survive and prosper in this community. Our goal," continues the newsletter, "is not to put gay establishments out of business; it is more important that we prove we don't have to endure discriminatory actions."

The settlement came four days after BWMT held a joint press conference and demonstration outside the club, located at 110 East 14th Street, on October 13.
Final payment of the compensation was scheduled to be made on or before October 31, 1983. BWMT plans to go back to the club in a few weeks to see if it is complying with the agreement.

In a letter published in the gay newspaper, the New York Native, John Addison, the club's manager, called the situation at the door August 12 a "misunderstanding." He invited the four black BWMT members "to return to the Union Club as my guest for the evening of their choice." Interestingly, the letter was dated October 12, the day before the press conference and demonstration during which he denied being a discriminator. Lidell Jackson, BWMT's press liaison, believes Addison's letter and his unsuccessful attempt to upstage BWMT at its own press conference by trying to hog press attention is his "way of trying to use the press to his best advantage."

However, articles in the New York Native about the club persuaded Dignity, a gay Catholic group, to cancel and reschedule its 11th anniversary party which it was going to hold at the Union Club on October 21.

In a related story reported by the Washington Blade, another gay newspaper, in its October 14 issue, the Washington, D.C. chapter of BWMT has dropped its complaint of discrimination against Badlands, a local gay bar and disco, which it had filed with D.C. Office of Human Rights. The complaint was filed on July 14, reports the Blade, after BWMT/DC received "a number of reports from local black Gays that Badlands was requiring blacks to show identification for proof -of-age while whites were not required to show such proof." The bar, says the Blade, "has agreed to contribute $5,000 to a Gay operated anti-discriminatory program."

Note: David Kaufman's the article, "Logo's 'The A-List': A Symbol of Gay Apartheid?" (December 6, 2010) complains that "[t]he same-sex reality-TV show is set in New York but has no black lead characters. Not unusual in a gay world that is routinely segregated by race."

Anyone familiar with the gay world is not surprised by the lack of color-blindness in the gay community. It's nothing new as my above article, written in November of 1983, underscores.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Few Words From Gay Talese

"The New Journalism, though often reading like fiction, is not fiction. It is, or should be, as reliable as the most reliable reportage. Although it seeks a larger truth than is possible through the mere compilation of verifiable facts, the use of direct quotations, and adherence to the rigid organizational style of the older form. The New Journalism allows, demands in fact, a more imaginative approach to reporting, and it permits the writer to inject himself into the narrative if he wishes, as many writers do, or to assume the role of a detached observer, as other writers do, including myself."--Gay Talese, from his book Fame & Obscurity (Doubleday, 1970).